Mel’s Hard Luck Diner: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 7)

We needed another meal idea while in Branson, so I yet again ran to Google to search the best reviewed restaurants in the area.

I couldn’t believe it when a placed called Mel’s Hard Luck Diner appeared near the top of the list.  Not exactly an appetizing name, right?  I took a look at the menu and it appeared as though everyone would be able to find something to eat.  The restaurant’s concept also sounded kind of cool — the wait staff will sing to you as you eat!

We agreed to give it a try.  Secretly, though, I felt a little nervous.  Singing and dancing makes me feel really awkward if I’m too close to the action.  I worried that the staff would literally be singing to us.  Looking someone in the eye as they sing directly to you — yikes.

Another confession — as soon as we walked in I wanted to leave.  Honestly, the place did not look all that nice at first glance.  Getting seated wasn’t a super warm experience, either.  Worst of all, the place was practically empty.  How good could it really be if we were practically the only ones there?

However, our waitress immediately proved very inviting and even play-sang for us a little as my wife and children mentioned that they were looking forward to the music.  I thought, “Oh, they just sing kind of goofy for you as they talk about the food.  I see.”

I was wrong.

At that moment,  the real music started and it all made sense.

The waiters and waitresses actually stroll along the restaurant with a microphone in hand belting out classic hits.  They take turns with one of them singing about every ten minutes.  One woman actually patted customers’ heads and rubbed their chins as she sang, but most were content to simply walk around while showcasing their talent.  Most impressive, though, was a man who actually carried several plates with the microphone tucked under his chin before placing the food in front of his customers while singing exquisitely!

Our competitive juices got flowing a little bit.  When our waitress sang, we made a point to cheer for her as loudly as we could and let the place know we had the best.  Nothing about the setting encouraged us to do so, but no one discouraged us, either.

Seriously, we heard about five different people sing while we were there, and they all had beautiful voices.  Each one of them also had a CD available in the gift shop, which they each made sure to mention at the end of their song.  Hey, who can blame them, right?  I imagine these folks are hoping to get discovered.

All in all, we had a really fun time.  The singing was excellent, our waitress was superb, and the food pleased us all.

Oh, by the way, by the time we left, the place was packed.

Here are some pictures from the Grand Village Shops website. This quaint little shopping center is where the restaurant is located.  You can also visit Mel’s Hard Luck Diner directly HERE.

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Hollywood Wax Museum: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 6)

Who doesn’t love a good wax museum?

When researching Branson, the Hollywood Wax Museum came up quite a bit as something visitors must do.  My wife and I took our kids, and we all had a ball.

With King Kong and plenty of outdoor attractions, the museum makes a great first impression.  We played around for fifteen minutes before even entering the museum!  Once inside, prepare for some very cool figures.  There’s a wide array of celebrity replicas.  My personal favorites were Zorro, Indiana Jones, and Bill Murray.  My kids loved Captain Jack Sparrow, the Men in Black, and the modern day pop stars section with Katy Perry, P!nk, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber.  My wife enjoyed the classic film stars section, as well as the Bradley Cooper figure.

I also personally enjoyed the horror section of the museum which featured old school Universal monsters as well as the Predator, Jason, Freddy, and even Leatherface.  Be warned, though, this area is made up to look a bit like a haunted house.  My six-year-old wanted no part of it, and my ten-year-old moved us along through it pretty quickly.

Some of the figures were more accurate than others, but all of them were extremely well made.  You can get right up next to them, and I was amazed to see intricate details like  tiny hairs on arms and blotches on skin.  They really did look lifelike in a lot of cases.

Most families could easily spend an hour or two in the museum.  We were pleasantly surprised by how many replicas were actually on display — more than we expected!

If you’d like to take a look at the Hollywood Wax Museum in Branson, click HERE.  It’s open 8:00 a.m. to midnight every day, so there’s always time to fit it in!

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Titanic: World’s Largest Museum Attraction: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 5)

My wife is a huge history fan, so our visit to the Titanic museum in Branson was always a foregone conclusion.  I’ve got some good news for you — there’s something at this impressive attraction for everyone!

We bought our tickets online well ahead of time, but–during spring break, at least–this wasn’t really necessary.  We arrived around 10:00 a.m. and had virtually no wait.  They do like to start groups at the top of the hour, but I don’t believe it’s a strict requirement.  Anyway, our tickets were waiting on us with no problems at all.

The exterior of the museum will astound you.  As you approach, you’ll notice that the front of the Titanic looms above high.  You can look at the picture below to get a sense of the scale.  It’s mammoth.  Of course, they obviously could only replicate about the first quarter of the ship.  That first one-fourth, though … wow!

As soon as you walk in, you are greeted by curators wearing authentic clothing.  You also get to see a replica of an actual propeller hanging above your head.  While it’s obviously not authentic, the size is correct, and it is breathtaking.

The museum offers listening devices that allow you to hear audio pertaining to specific areas of the museum.  They have two versions.  One is aimed at adults.  The other is meant for children.  The museum even designates which channels are for adults and which are for kids.  It’s a small, though much appreciated, feature.  Both of my daughters were happy to listen to the kid-friendly snippets.

Once you enter the first exhibit, you’re met with an enormous model of the vessel about the size of a couch.  The detail is amazing and you could probably spend an hour alone studying it.

Once you leave this exhibit, you’ll encounter a speaker walking you through the Titanic’s doomed journey.  Our presenter, a retired teacher, was excellent.  Though he probably gives the same talk dozens of times a day, he showed wonderful enthusiasm and really made it fun to experience.

I won’t run through every single exhibit with you, but they have plenty for the entire family to enjoy.  For the grown-up history buffs, prepare yourselves for actual recovered artifacts like paperwork, cutlery, life vests, furniture, a replica of the grand staircase, vintage clothing, and that’s just to name a few.

For the more tactile patrons, the museum offers an actual wheel that you can spin, a deck replicating both the temperature and night of the awful accident, a vat of water with a timer for you to stick your hand in that mimic’s the temperature the survivors would have had to endure, three different portions of the deck at different pitches for you to experience what the sinking would have felt like, and so much more!

Furthermore, you will be given a ticket stub when you enter with the name of an actual passenger on the Titanic and their biography up to the night of the tragedy.  As you exit the museum, you’ll get to discover if your person survived or not.

Though the Titanic museum is extremely educational and offers a lot of really fun, physical things to do, it’s also quite sobering as the full impact of the travesty settles upon you.

If you’re traveling to Branson, I would consider this a “must-do” event.

You can visit the Titanic museum by clicking HERE.

 

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Did you enjoy this article?  Listen to my podcast, Stories By Scott William Foley, HERE!

Jackie B. Goode’s Uptown Cafe: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 4)

During our first full day at Branson, we were faced with figuring out where to go for lunch.  Like with Florentina’s the night before, I simply ran a quick Google search and Jackie B. Goode’s popped right up near the top of the list.  Because we were totally unfamiliar with the area, we decided just to go for it.

We walked up and immediately loved the decor.  As you can see from the picture below, they have a fun yellow taxi cab right out front and their facade makes for a pretty cool view from the street.

As we entered, we saw a big, open room definitely decked out in 50s style.  It felt a little bit like walking through a time portal.  Jackie B. Goode’s is named for Jack Goode, a man who sacrificed his life for America during Vietnam.  You’ll see lots of memorabilia on the walls honoring his memory.

Though it was 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning, there wasn’t much of a crowd.  We were seated immediately.  We noticed that the staff, while very friendly, were also pretty experienced.  As a result, the service wasn’t very fast or energetic, but it was done correctly and with a smile.

I ordered a fried chicken sandwich.  I’ve never had one before, so I figured why not?  I also ordered a root beer float.  The root beer float proved to be one of the best I’ve ever had.  The fried chicken sandwich was also very good.  It was exactly what it sounds like — a fried chicken breast on a bun.

My wife ordered fish and chips.  She said it was okay but nothing particularly special.  She told me that it compared to what you would get at a lot of fast-food places.  However, she raved about her chocolate malt.

My daughters seemed to enjoy their grilled cheese, and they certainly loved the chocolate brownie ice cream sundae dessert that they shared.  I took a few bites myself — delicious!

A stage existed off to one side of the restaurant.  Jackie B. Goode’s apparently has live musicians performing most of the time.  No one played while we ate there, but we did notice a woman walk in and start setting up as we were finishing our meal.  They also had a jar placed near the cashier notifying patrons that the musical acts were not paid, but they would appreciate any tips.

We had a good time at Jackie B. Goode’s and, for the most part, liked our food well enough.  I’d have no problem recommending it to someone looking for a bite.  Our only small complaint is that Jackie B. Goode’s has a breakfast buffet from 7:30 to 11:00 a.m.  We didn’t intend to make the buffet, but my wife was positioned as such that she had to watch the workers clean the buffet up throughout her entire lunch.  She didn’t find it very appetizing.

Whatever the case, I absolutely suggest you at least pop in for a root beer float, a chocolate malt, and a brownie ice cream sundae.

If you’d like to visit the Jackie B. Goode’s website, click HERE.

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Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 3)

We heard Branson offered a lot in regards to shows, so I started doing some research online and that certainly proved to be the case.  Our family really does enjoy seeing shows of all kinds.  When we go to Disney World, we like the musical acts and comedy skits every bit as much as the rides.  With that in mind, we figured Branson would be a hit.

I’m afraid my search for Branson shows did not utilize a terribly complex system.  I pretty much just searched “top rated Branson shows.”  A long list came up with The Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai near the top.  After reading up on them and investigating their website, I figured this was something we would all enjoy.

Booking the tickets proved to be snap.  I just called the box office and spoke to a very nice person.  When you search these shows at Branson, you have all kinds of vendors available for the booking.  I’m not familiar with the area and didn’t know who was who, so I felt most comfortable calling the box office of each show directly.  I didn’t want to engage a third party for fear of being bamboozled or paying extra in handling fees.

Our first show occurred in the Grand Shanghai Theater.  While I’m glad I booked our tickets over the telephone because it resulted in front row seats, it wasn’t necessary.  I could have bought the tickets on site.  The theater had plenty of seating.

Speaking of the theater, I was surprised that it was very … well, like a traditional stage theater.  The Grand Shanghai had one level’s worth of seats with a standard raised stage at the front.  The acrobats just hauled out whatever they needed for a particular act between curtain closings.

As for the show itself, the young performers thrilled us during the entire two hours of the production.  We saw hat jugglers, plate spinners, aerial acts of all sorts, people balancing umbrellas, pots, and tables on their toes, contortionists, a quick change magician, and much, much more!

Most amazing of all?  We didn’t see one mistake.  Not one.  Though none of the acrobats looked over twenty-five years old to me, they were all experts.  These weren’t one-skill set performers, either.  The majority of them participated in nearly all of the acts!

If you’re planning a visit to Branson, I completely recommend you pay The Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai a visit.  Their expertise, precision, and talent will astound you.

Take a look at their website HERE.

Below are a just a few of the pictures taken by my wife.  Check them out!

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Florentina’s Ristorante Italiano: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 2)

We arrived at our lodge on a Saturday during the late evening.  The rain fell heavily and had been doing so for hours.  We were road weary and, simply put, wanted  a warm, delicious meal.

A quick Internet search suggested that Florentina’s Ristorante Italiano was our likely best choice, so, after unpacking, we headed back out.  Luckily, Florentina’s awaited literally around the corner from Willow Ridge Lodge.

I’ll be honest — when we first arrived, I wanted to leave.  People stood around everywhere waiting for a table.  We were told it would be twenty to thirty minutes before we could be seated, which further prompted me to get out of there.  However, my wife correctly reasoned that it would take twenty to thirty minutes to get back in the car, find a new restaurant, get out, go in, etc.  She figured we might as well stay put.

I’m so glad she talked me into staying.

Florentina’s Ristorante Italiano served the best meal of our entire week in Branson.  Seriously, if you can only go out once for dinner while in the area, make Florentina’s Ristorante Italiano your top choice.

Our waiter was nice, the ambiance was fine, but the food … the food was delicious.  My wife and I both ordered Paulo’s Favorites, which was a dish comprised of lasagna, spaghetti with Italian sausage, and fettucini alfredo.  (Keep in mind that we’d been in the car for six and a half hours — we were hungry!)  The fettucini and spaghetti tasted great, but the lasagna … holy cow.  It was the best I’ve ever had.  When you visit this restaurant, don’t even think about it, just order the lasagna.

If you’d like to check out the Florentina’s Ristorante Italiano  menu, click HERE.  You can also visit their website by clicking HERE.

If you ever pay them a visit, let me know what you thought of your meal!

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  (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE

Marriott’s Willow Ridge Lodge: Branson, Baby! – Our 2019 Spring Break (Part 1)

We just got back from a week in Branson, Missouri, and let me tell you — we loved it!  I’m going to spend the next week really breaking down our trip for you in case you ever want to visit.  From shows to restaurants to attractions to lodging — I want to hit it all.  As you’ll see from my impending posts, I highly recommend the area.

It’s a funny story how we even ended up in Branson.  I was complaining to a friend about how expensive Florida is during spring break, yet I really wanted to go somewhere and do something during the week-long vacation.  As fate would have it, this friend belonged to a vacation club and offered to book a room on our behalf.  After perusing the possibilities, we settled on Marriott’s Willow Ridge Lodge in Branson, Missouri.

I’ve never been to Branson, but I’ve heard good things.  I figured it would be relatively warm, and I knew there was a ton to do in regards to shows and attractions.  We are definitely a show kind of family, so I hoped this would be a winning situation.

I knew right away that we made a great choice as far as lodging was concerned.  Marriott’s Willow Ridge Lodge pleased me from start to finish.

First of all, our suite met our every need.  We had a huge, fully furnished kitchen, a gigantic table, laundry machines in the room, a wonderful walk-out balcony, a master bedroom for my wife and I, and a sofa bed for my kids.  The suite had ample closet space as well as several empty cabinet drawers.  Once we packed our clothes away in drawers and closets, we felt like we were living in an apartment!

The lodge itself had so so many activities that we honestly could have simply stayed there the whole week and been sufficiently entertained.  Though their outdoor pool wasn’t yet open, their indoor pool area was enormous and also offered a large hot tub.  We made a point to wake up and go swimming every morning between eight and nine, and every single time we were the first ones in there.  To have that entire room to ourselves — it was amazing.

They also had a gaming room with board games galore, a full billiards table,  a foosball table, a pinball machine, an arcade machine, a ping-pong table, an air hockey table, and even a claw machine!  The claw machine and arcade games cost fifty-cents to play, but the rest was free.  My oldest daughter would have been quite content to stay in that room the entire time.  My youngest loved the claw machine — we even managed to snag two critters out of it.

Furthermore, the lodge had a small baseball field, a basketball half-court, a tether ball pole, a horseshoe pit, and a shuffleboard court!  These were not old, rundown areas, either.  These spots were kept up and fun to use.

Willow Ridge also made sure to have an activity available for its guest every hour on the hour.  We were given an itinerary when we checked in that basically detailed the entire week’s worth of activities.  Every night they showed a movie on a mammoth big screen TV in their den.  They also organized weenie roasts and s’mores at the fire pit.  At various points during our stay they had Italian soda samplings, local brew tastings, ice cream socials, blackjack games, three-point contests, craft time, home-run derbies, campfire stories, and several other things.  In short, there was always something going on.

I’d also like to mention that every single employee that we bumped into could not have been more friendly.  From the workers at the front desk to the cleaning staff, everyone greeted us with a smile on their face and a positive word to say.  They also made a point to ask us how our stay was going and if they could help with anything.  I’m telling you, from the top down, it was excellent customer service.

Best of all?  The place was quiet.  We learned from our stay at the Wilderness in the Dells to request top floor suites.  But even though we didn’t have anyone above us, we could not hear any of our neighbors at all.  We saw people going into the rooms next to us, and from the parking lot I saw people on their balcony below our room, but I never heard anyone.  In fact, I worried our six-year-old was the local rabble-rouser!

Though it wasn’t an issue for me at all, be aware that the Willow Ridge website makes it look like it’s in the middle of a forest.  This is not the case.  While they have an extensive area of land that is surrounded by trees, they are pretty much smack dab in the middle of everything.  We loved it because we could get anywhere we wanted to go in minutes.  However, from our balcony we could see the touristy areas of Branson, not the depths of a beautiful wilderness.  Like I said, I had no problem with the location whatsoever, especially because we were far enough off the main road that we couldn’t even hear car noise.  It was pretty astounding.

Honestly, I have no idea how you book with the Willow Ridge Lodge if you’re not a member of their vacation club, and I’m not even sure if you can, but because our friend helped us out, we were able to stay there for an entire week for less than five hundred dollars.  Yes, you read that right.  We were able to stay an entire week on what would have cost us a single night in Florida.  You can’t beat that!

If you’d like to visit the Marriott Willow Ridge Lodge website, click HERE.

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